Saltwater Lessons in Customer Service
Clues about how to succeed in providing superior service are
everywhere. On a fun-in-the-sun trip, I learned more than my fair
share. My husband and I had been scuba diving only once before,
ten years earlier, but Tom, our instructor, wasnít concerned. As
the boat headed in the direction of Nothing But Water, he said
heíd tell us everything we needed to know Ė and he did.
In 30 seconds, he mentioned 47 different things to remember
when youíre 40 feet beneath the surface. To check your oxygen
level, do this. If you feel pressure in your ears, do that. If
your mask fills up with water . . . Your mask fills up
with water? But Tom was too busy racing through his
list to ask if we were absorbing his high-speed instructions.
When he finished, he said, "Itís easy; thereís nothing to
I wasnít sure I agreed. The regulator kept slipping out of my
mouth and I knew that if that happened underwater, I could
swallow the ocean and drown. I asked Tom about it, and he pointed
to the two flanges in the mouthpiece that youíre supposed to
clamp down on with your back teeth. Do that and the regulator
stay in just fine. Just a minor detail, I suppose. I clamped down
so hard that my jaw hurt the next day.
While heading to the site of our second dive, Tom said
something about staying close to the bottom during this dive
because of pockets of fresh water turbulence that can propel you
toward the surface. He didnít stress this point, though, or
caution us to keep it in mind, or suggest that it could be
So it was a shock when I got caught in one of those pockets of
turbulence and was suddenly and rapidly propelled to the surface,
where I got caught in a whirlpool and couldnít catch my breath.
Tom emerged from the depths, rescued me, and said, "Now do you see what I mean by staying close
to the bottom?" Indeed, yes!
Unaccustomed as we are to leaving well enough alone, we rented
a two-person speedboat the next day. This tiny boat reached
incredible speeds, and we wondered about the risk of being tossed
out and getting chopped up by the motor blades. So we went back
to shore to find out. "Oh," said the rental manager, "didnít I
tell you about the safety switch?"
Safety switch? What safety switch? Landlubbers that we are, we
hadnít even noticed the loop on the life jacket that you attach
to the safety switch on the front panel of the boat. Then, if
youíre hurled from the boat, the loop yanks on the switch,
turning off the motor and stopping the boat before youíre chopped
into shark food. Just another minor detail.
Then there was parasailing. To parasail, you pay an outrageous
fee that entitles you to spend 10 minutes in midair, seated in a
harness thatís attached to a speedboat down below and a parachute
up above. I asked the attendant, "Is this thing safe?" He said,
"Absolutely!" as he handed us a release form to sign, relieving
him of responsibility for all the things that could go wrong
while we were up in the air being safe. Is there any chance of
landing in the water? "None," replied the attendant, as he gave
us life jackets to wear in case we landed in the water.
What did I learn on this trip about delivering superior
service? Lots: Donít assume people will understand how to do
something if they havenít tried it themselves. When something is
critical, say so. Conscientiously encourage questions. Never say,
"Itís easy, thereís nothing to it." Avoid giving mixed messages.
Repeat important information. Pay attention to minor details. Be
especially careful not to overlook the obvious.
Especially careful. Your customersí survival
may depend on it.